BSE confirmed in California dairy cow
Officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Tuesday (April 24) that they have confirmed a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) - also called "mad cow" disease - in a California dairy cow.
It is the fourth case of BSE to be discovered in the United States.
The USDA's chief veterinary officer John Clifford said his lab had confirmed the disease in the dairy cow and said it was an atypical, rare form of the disease that is "not likely to be attributable to infected feed, which is the normal method of spread from cow to cow."
Clifford emphasized that the animal was discovered as part of a routine surveillance program for the disease and no part of the cow entered the food supply. "There should be no concern about the safety of the food supply, which we have addressed through interlocking safeguards."
The food safety protocol for this disease involves the continuous removal of any material that could contain the BSE agent - brains and spinal cords, he added.
Animal health is addressed through ban on feeding ruminant byproducts to other ruminants that has been in place since 1997.
That program has worked very well to protect animal health, Clifford said.
There has been a significant reduction in BSE worldwide through implementation of such feed bans, he said. At the height of the disease there were 40,000 cows per year infected with the disease.
The United Kingdom has had 184,000 cases since 1987. This is only the fourth in the United States.
Last year there were 29 cases identified worldwide. This is the first U.S. case since 2006.
Clifford emphasized that the food supply is safe and that this finding "should not" affect international trade, but cattle futures contracts dropped by the market-designated limit as traders began to hear the news Tuesday afternoon.
"Our livestock are some of the healthiest in the world and our consumers should be confident in our food supply," he said, adding that "milk is safe" and has never been considered a pathway for this disease.
After the first discovery of a BSE cow in the United States, many countries banned beef imports of U.S. beef. In the year after BSE was discovered in that first cow in December 2003, U.S. beef exports plunged 82 percent.
Wisconsin State Veterinarian Bob Ehlenfeldt calls it - "the cow that stole Christmas."
This cow from central California was identified at a rendering plant as part of a routine testing program. Officially, the USDA is not confirming the animal's age or origin and Clifford said that will be part of an ongoing investigation.
The carcass is being held by the state at the rendering plant and will be destroyed. It was never presented for human consumption.
Bob Stallman, president of American Farm Bureau released a statement reiterating the safety of American beef and dairy products.
"The safeguards our government has in place to detect any incidence of this disease are clearly working. The report of a cow with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, discovered during the pre-rendering process, is proof that our detection system works."
Tom Talbot, chair of a cattle health committee at National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said the top priority of American cattle producers is raising healthy cattle.
"As such, the U.S. beef community has worked with animal health experts and government to put in place multiple interlocking safeguards over the past two decades to prevent BSE from taking hold in the United States."
The interlocking safeguards and regulatory controls instituted by the United States have been recognized by the World Organization for Animal Health, he added. The recognition that the system of controls is effective, "means that U.S fresh beef and beef products from cattle of all ages are safe and can be safely traded due to our interlocking safeguards," Talbot said.
"USDA's ongoing BSE surveillance program tests approximately 40,000 high-risk cattle annually, bringing the total of tested animals to more than 1 million since the program began. BSE is fast approaching eradication worldwide. According to USDA, there were only 29 cases of BSE worldwide in 2011, which is a 99 percent reduction since the peak in 1992 of more than 37,300 cases," Talbot added.
During a press call Tuesday, Clifford said the USDA was sharing its laboratory tests on the cow with international health reference laboratories in Canada and England, the official global reference labs for the disease.
Experts there have extensive experience diagnosing atypical BSE, he said, and will review the USDA's confirmation of this form of the disease. The agency, along with California animal health officials will also conduct a comprehensive epidemiological investigation.
Jerry Kozak, president and chief operating officer of the National Milk Producers Federation released a statement saying that American dairy farmers were "encouraged that the ongoing surveillance and inspections" are working to keep BSE out of the U.S. food supply.
Kozak noted that milk and dairy products do not contain or transmit BSE, and animals do not transmit the disease through cattle-to-human contact. The infectious prions that transmit BSE are found in neurological tissues, such as brains and spinal cords.
Non-ambulatory animals - those that cannot walk, sometimes called "downer cows" - are not allowed to be processed at facilities where meat animals are handled. This regulation helps ensure that animals that are unwell are not entered into the food supply, Kozak noted.